France Confirms Deadly
H5N1 At Turkey Farm

By David Evans
(Reuters) -- France on Saturday [25 Feb 2006] confirmed the presence of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu at a farm in the east of the country where thousands of turkeys had died.
The outbreak was discovered on Thursday at the farm with 11 000 turkeys in the Ain department, where 2 cases of H5N1 had already been confirmed in wild ducks.
Laboratory tests by Afssa, France's national agency for nutritional safety, showed that the virus found at the turkey farm was 99 per cent homologous with that found in one of the ducks, the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement. An investigation was under way to establish how the farm became contaminated with the virus, the ministry added.
"What worries us, and this is why we have reacted immediately, is that the farm is within the protection zone that we set up for the first duck," farm minister Dominique Bussereau told French television on Friday, when the authorities were testing for the virus [see comment]. Poultry sales in France are already down by about 30 per cent.
The industry received another blow on Friday when Japan's embassy in Paris said Tokyo had imposed a temporary ban on imports of French poultry products after bird flu was found at the turkey farm.
"In France they have found a farm-raised fowl contaminated with the virus. It's Japan's policy to ban poultry imports from countries hit by bird flu," an embassy spokesman said, adding that the ban was temporary and would take effect immediately.
The deadly virus is highly contagious among poultry and can spread through an entire flock within hours. It remains difficult for humans to catch but has killed more than 90 people worldwide. Experts say cooked poultry meat is safe to eat.
The virus has spread from Asia to Africa, and experts fear poultry in more regions around the world could soon be infected.
Local sources said about 80 per cent of the turkeys at the French farm, in a region famous for the quality of its chickens, had died. The remaining birds were culled.
French prime minister Dominique de Villepin has announced an aid package for the sector worth 52 million euros. He travelled to Lyon on Friday, where authorities held a bird flu simulation exercise focused on the potential arrival of infected people on a plane from a bird flu-hit region.
France has permission from the EU for a limited vaccination programme in geese and ducks in 3 departments in the west of the country believed to be at risk from migratory birds.
Bussereau said 2 of the departments had decided to opt for the confinement of fowl rather than vaccination.



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